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EDITORIAL: Can A Realist Also Be An Optimist?

Posted On: 10/1/2007

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Can a realist in the amusement machine industry also be an optimist? Absolutely. Meet Jim Turntine, CEO of Play-Mor Coin-Op and Wonder Novelty (Sullivan, MO). This industry will survive, and thrive, thanks to people like him. He is a calm and practical realist who looks conditions in the eye and calls things by their right names. At the same time, he is an optimist -- but one who believes in creating his own opportunities.

Jim also believes in smart, pragmatic, aggressive and efficient business practices. As he sees it, this begins with a strong focus on professional internal management. His company's strategy includes an aggressive M&A plan: He and partner Jim Biermann have purchased 18 routes in 17 years.

Play-Mor strongly focuses on leagues and tournament promotions (for both darts and pool), and also on steady upgrading of music and games equipment. Following a crash buying program that started last winter, the company now runs nearly 200 downloading jukeboxes statewide. That's 95% of its jukeboxes.

Many coin-op game manufacturers have been wondering why new machine sales are down in recent years. Specifically, they wonder why trade show attendance is down -- and why new product introductions don't spark the sales spikes they once did. Jim Turntine believes he knows at least part of the answer.

Even if the operator is aggressive about upgrading his route and expanding to new locations, he said, much of his purchasing budget is already "spoken for" -- tied up in CD-to-digital jukebox upgrades, annual update kits for countertop and video golf games and regular update software for bowling and shooting videogames. "A lot of our budget is predetermined now," he said.

"It's a big issue with me," Turntine adds. "Factories come out with upgrades at intervals and you have to buy them to stay current with promotions. In one sense, I almost feel these upgrades are a necessary evil; and while you might see a spike from the updated videogames, in most cases you will also see a drop in the cashboxes for the jukeboxes or pool tables. The location generally makes a set amount of money, and a good operator maximizes that. Buying more or upgrading videogame kits maintains location revenue, but it usually won't increase it."

The growing use of update kits across the board, he explained, has a direct cause-and-effect relationship on show attendance and expo-triggered buying of new machines.

"Why is attendance at trade shows down?" he asked rhetorically.  "Why is buying down? To me, it's pretty simple. We have an annual purchasing budget and, because we're already committed to buy update kits, we pretty much know how much of that budget we're going to spend before we see a single new machine in the spring or fall."

This line of thinking may sound a touch fatalistic, but the truth is that Jim Turntine is anything but. He's not just a talker; he's a doer. As president of the Missouri Amusement and Music Operators Association, he and MOAMOA directors recently led operators to a substantial political and financial victory, securing statutory protection from a potentially crippling sales tax.

A blend of realism and optimism characterizes Turntine's thinking about the industry as a whole. "Yes, we have many problems from smoking bans to unfair competition with gray-area game operators," he said. "I suppose the worst thing is the collective challenge of the economics of prices going up across the board, including labor cost, insurance, gas prices and other inflation. But these challenges are not devastating. You just deal with them every day and move on. This is the reality of our industry today. The bottom line is that we'll continue on and find a way to succeed in this environment."

Jim's message for his fellow operators is simple.  "Keep the faith," he said. "Never give up." You can read a full profile of Jim Turntine and Play-Mor inside this issue.